At sea, Bergen, and homeward April 19, 20, 21, 2022

For our last of three ”at sea” days I am having trouble remembering what we did. I imagine we hung out and read books and started getting ourselves organized for the trip home. I only have one picture and that is of veal parmesan. We were eating at the Italian restaurant and I was saying that I wished that they had veal parmesan since they had lots of other veal preparations. Sarah said why don’t you just ask for what you want and see what happens. What happened was an enormous plateful of veal parmesan! Everyone at Viking will bend over backwards to make sure you are happy.

Veal parmesan

After an unbelievably smooth crossing of the North Sea we arrive in Bergen, Norway. Bergen was founded in 1070 on what has previously been a Viking settlement. It is the second largest city in Norway and was the country’s capital before Oslo. Due to it being a Hanseatic League stronghold it be came an economic powerhouse in the Middle Ages providing stockfish to Northern Europe. The Bergen wharf with its quaint wooden houses has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

Since John and I have been to Bergen several times and know that the ship anchors right near the center of town, we decide to make our own adventure today. Sarah is a willing participant. We walk down to the historic harbor and look at the iconic Bergen houses.

These repurposed houses along the wharf are on every Bergen postcard.

From there we walk over St. Mary’s Church. ”The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 1140s and completed around 1180, making this church the oldest remaining building in the whole city of Bergen. There have been a few fires that burned the church, as well as several renovations and reconstructions, most recently in 2013.” (Wikipedia.) Since the church was begun before Reformation and protected by the powerful Hanseatic League its interior is decorated by statues and paintings. Otherwise it might have been torn down or whitewashed like many other Northern European churches.

St. Mary’s Church, Bergen

Alterpiece in St. Mary’s Church, Bergen (The photogtapher – Morten Dreier) Photos not allowed in church

Situation of St. Mary’’s Church from blockprint, 1580

Our plan is to next look at the Hanseatic Museum. Unfortunately it is closed until 2024 as it is getting restored using materials and techniques which are historically correct. We are able to go into the Schøtstuene assembly rooms where the merchants were able to go to relax and interact.

Sarah next to an old heating stove in the Schotstuene

One of the things that Sarah has been looking forward to and that we have totally hyped is having lunch at Bryggeloftet & Stuene where they make this amazing Bergen fish soup. Hurrah! She likes it as much as we do!

Bergen fish soup is kind of like New England clam chowder but with a variety of seafood

Sarah and John enjoying a beer to go with their fish soup

Now we meander back to the ship stopping at the Bergenhus Fortress which looks out over the harbor. The walls are a little high for me to get a good picture. The Bergenhus Fortress was built in 1240 and is still in use today.

Part of the Bergenhus Fortress with the medieval Rosenkrantz Tower rising behind it

Part of the harbor

We arrive back at the ship with enough time to get our packing organized and to have tea.

Our last tea

Later we have our last dinner at Chef’s Table. The menu tonight is called Asian Panorama.

It is a short night since we have to assemble for our ride to the airport at 3 AM. Our flight leaves for Copenhagen at 6 AM. This is followed by an almost 5 hour layover before our flight back to SFO. Everything goes smoothly but it is a really long day before we are home.

We had a wonderful time and saw lots of new stuff. As always by the end we are tired of being with so many people and eating so much. No doubt that will wear off in the next couple of weeks.

Blankenberge, Belgium 4/17/22

We dock near Bruges (Zeebrugge) around noon on Easter Sunday. While most of our fellow cruisers are going on some excursion to Bruges, we are taking the free shuttle into Blankenberge. TODAY IS THE DAY WE MEET UP WITH MARK Z! Mark is Sarah’s best friend and she is beyond excited. I think getting to spend the afternoon with Mark was really why she wanted to come on this cruise.

After some dithering about whether we need to go through the Customs and Immigration building, we board the bus.

Apparently not many people want to visit Blankenberge (a few more wander on before we leave.)

The idea is to meet Mark who has come to Blankenberge on the train in front of the Blankenberge sign. Of course I fret about whether we will be able to find the sign and what if there are more signs than one. I should not have worried since the sign for Blankenberger is composed of freestanding letters about eight feet tall. And in front of the B there is Mark. There are many hugs and some pictures before they and we head off in different directions.

Mark and Sarah

Mary, Mark, and Sarah in Blankenberge

John and I walk down to the North Sea. It is a beautiful day and the Belgians are out in force. While I am wearing a turtleneck, jacket, and scarf, the Belgians are in shorts and swimsuits! Apparently low 60s are sunbathing weather.

Mary at the North Sea with sunbathing Belgians

Our next stop will be for lunch. After perusing a few restaurants on the beach we choose an Italian restaurant, Portobello. We order Jupiter beers and have some olives and bruschette. It is nice to be away from the bustle of eating on the boat. We follow our appetizers with delicious spaghetti vongole (Mary) and zuppe di cozze (John).

Olives and beer
John in traditional beer pose with bruschette
Spaghetti alle vongole with weird carrot strips
Zuppe di cozze for John

The shuttle bus only runs once an hour and we decide to catch the 3:00 PM. Sarah takes the last bus back at 4:00. Before boarding the bus we take a look at the St. Anthony Abbot church. There are a couple of Jan Maes paintings and an excellent statue of St. Anthony with his devil pig.

St. Anthony Abbot Church, 1358

Jan Maes painting of the Ascension of Mary with St. Anthony Abbot
John and St. Anthony Abbot who has his bell and pig

When we arrive back in our room there is a giant chocolate rabbit, a smaller chocolate rabbit, and a nest of chocolate eggs! The giant rabbit is bigger than my head! Even if I liked chocolate there is no way we would be able to take it home. We eat the chocolate eggs and leave a note for Ricky and Erik to share the chocolates with the crew.

Giant chocolate bunny
Bigger than my head!

It has been a wonderful day in Blankenberge. Sarah has an immensely happy/sad day that she will remember always.

Portsmouth, England 4/15/22

Portsmouth is central to England’s maritime past and has been a naval port for centuries. It has been home to historic vessels such as Henry VIII’s Mary Rose and Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory. It’s history shows that it has been settled since before the days of the Roman Empire. This swooping sail-like sculpture welcomes you to Portsmouth Harbor.

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth, England

Today our adventures take us from Portsmouth to Stonehenge, a place I have always wanted to see. Unfortunately we have been saddled with Lorna, the worst guide of the trip. She stands in the front of the bus pointing out things that she sees on either side such as ooh, here is a garden center, or look to the left and you will see a landfill. Sometimes she tells us what we can’t see like, there is a charming village to your right but you can’t see it from the bus. Thanks for the non-info, Lorna. One of the things we do manage to see and that Sarah has snagged a picture of is the spire of the Salisbury Cathedral. Would have been nice to have a closer look.

Salisbury Cathedral, built from 1220 to 1258 with the spire being built in 1320

Finally we get to Stonehenge. You cannot see the stones from the museum area. The museum has a 360 degree presentation of the site as a trip through time. Our guide keeps calling it a 365 degree presentation. Sigh. There is a large part of the museum in which relics from the site reside.

Stonehenge itself is a prehistoric temple which began being built about 4500 years ago. The stones are carefully arranged to line up with the movement of the sun. About 5000 years ago a circular enclosure was built but the enormous sarsen stones were raised 500 years later. Smaller bluestones were placed between the large stones and were later rearranged. Some of the stones have fallen and others have been removed. A restoration project started in 1919 and continued off and on for 45 years.

We are excited to see the actual site. Our bus driver has told us that as kids they used to come here and have picnics and sit on the stones but now the area is roped off and you cannot get very close.
Without zooming in on the picture this is about the view you get.
Sarah and Mary at Stonehenge
John at Stonehenge
A look from the other side

According to folklore, Stonehenge was created by Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend, who magically transported the massive stones from Ireland. The most popular belief is that it was constructed by Druids. Through carbon dating scientists have discovered that it was completed a thousand years before the Celts ever inhabited the region which eliminates the Druids. It is now thought that the people who built came from three different tribes at three different times. They are from the earliest the Windmill Hill people around 3000 BC. then the Beaker Folk around 2000 BC, and finally the Wessex Peoples around 1500 BC. The Wessex Peoples were well-organized traders and used greater precision in their calculations and construction.

I forgot to include a picture of the watchbird of Stonehenge when I first posted this.

Gertrude, a Great Bustard, keeps her eyes on Stonehenge and the tourists.

We spend a goodly amount of time at Stonehenge before reboarding the bus for the trip back to Portsmouth. Along the way back we go through the New Forest area. As it turns out the New Forest is actually not much of a forest but rather a large tract of unenclosed pasture land. It used to be a Royal Forest but was changed to an area of common rights in 1698. In our drive by we see horses, donkeys, sheep and other animals grazing. Finally we see another statue that looks like sails and we are close to Portsmouth.

Sails near Portsmouth

We have lots to do before dinner tonight! Tonight is the first night of Passover and we have been squirreling away foods that we need all week, a hard boiled egg from breakfast, lettuces, an apple, and walnuts from lunch. and John asked one of the workers from the kitchen if he could have some horseradish and got half of a cup! Our cabin steward, Ricky, has procured a bottle of wine for us. From home I brought two tea lights (no candles allowed), three pieces of matzoh which did not survive the trip very well, our Haggadahs and John’s yarmulka. We have a fun reading at our atypical Seder and then progress down to Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant, where we all order their excellent lamb chops. It has been a long and memorable day.

Falmouth, England 4/14/2022

Everyday we get the Viking Daily which tells us what is going on for the day. According to the Viking Daily Falmouth is the gateway to the county of Cornwall which is the southwest corner of England. Its location made it a good site to aid the launch of the D-Day fleets. Most of the buildings are made of gray granite and Henry VIII built his Pendennis Castle here to defend England from France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Sarah has chosen a different excursion from ours and is taking a 4 mile hike on the Lizard Peninsula. I am concerned she will not see much since it is very foggy this morning. Why am I surprised!? It’s England! But as it turns out the fog burns off and she has a wonderful time.

View from Sarah’s hike on the Lizard Peninsula
Sarah on Sarah’s hike on the Lizard Peninsula

John and I have a leisurely morning reading our books and fighting with the recalcitrant internet. We take a walk outside to look at the Falmouth harbor.

Falmouth as seen from the portside of the ship
A closer look at Falmouth

After lunch John and I start our excursion. We are going to the Tregothnan Tea Estate. Interesting fact, tea did not arrive in England until 1660 as part of a dowery to King Charles II. I try to take pictures out the bus windows but am not very successful.

Attached row houses with exuberant foliage along the way

Upon arriving we learn that this area of England is unique in climate. Its micro-climate is never too hot or too cold and as long as it never has a spell of windy cold, dry air it is perfect for growing tea. We embark upon a mile hike to where the tea is grown. I am limping around today due to my knee and take my cane along which causes the guides to be over-solicitous.

There is abundant plant life along the trail. We see wild garlic, ferns, and a special kind of plum that only grows on the estate. It is quite a pretty walk although fairly strenuous especially when we have to climb over a steep stile.

Allium ursinum, known as wild garlic

View along our walk, a tributary to the River Fal

We finally reach the the area where the tea plants grow. Our tea guide tells us that there are three chemicals that make tea so special, caffeine, thiamine, and L-bromine. The caffeine is the first to be noticed and it picks you up, the thiamine makes you say ahhhh, and the L-bromine keeps you functioning at a high level. Sounds like a bit of tea propaganda to me but I am happy to swallow it since I love tea!

Tea plants
Our tea guide explains about tea

We pick some tea. You only use the leaves at the very tip of the branches.
Tea pickers, Mary and John

Later after hiking back we get to sit down and have some tea. I like the classic best and buy a box of loose tea for Sarah. (I hope she will share it with me and make some of those yummy little tea sandwiches!)

Classic loose tea from Tregothnan Tea Estate

After driving back and getting cleaned up John and I have our special negroni sbagliato in the Living Room before dinner. John has made several copies of the recipe for the bartenders since our negroni has sparkling wine instead of gin (ugh), olives, and a twist of orange. Later we all have dinner at Chef’s Table where they are serving the Xiang tasting menu. The dinner and wine pairings are mostly good and the service is excellent.